For our Australian Topend Tour in 2021, we travelled for over 50 days, mostly around the Northern Territory of Australia. We have written blogs about sections of this trip, such as Coober Pedy and Corroboree Billabong. Below is a brief summary of each day of the trip, which serves as a reminder of how many fabulous days we were able to compress into this amazing trip.
Friday, June 4. Our first day of the trip officially started when we were together as a family again. Rob had arrived in Darwin after a week of driving solo up the west coast of Australia, while Clare had flown up with the kids from Perth. While waiting for them to arrive, Rob had time to check out a big thing, a buffalo in a car yard. We all met up at the McCormick’s, our Darwin home for the week. The kids were off to a flying start, off to watch a basketball game with our hosts, leaving adults to catch up and start some planning.
Saturday, June 5. Our first item on the Darwin agenda was the Parap markets, a Saturday morning institution when we lived here twenty years ago. After we filled up on some deep-fried goodness, the best laksa ever and some freshly blended juices, we headed to Cullen bay. Here you can feed fish for free, followed by a beer at the nearby bar, famous for the unusual toilets. We finished the day with some beachcombing at Casuarina Beach, finding a huge number of sand dollars.
Sunday, June 6. Our host Chriso took the boys under his wing and after some training in the nets, gave them a few cricket tips and drills to work on. We visited the infamous Darwin Museum and saw sweetheart the huge 5-meter crocodile. The afternoon was spent playing and swimming at the beautifully relaxing waterfront wave pool. Sunday evenings in Darwin means the famous Mindil Beach Markets, which of course includes some more market goodness, and comes with a guaranteed territory sunset on the beach.
Monday, June 7. Some fun and education at the Flying Doctor’s Museum at Stokes Hill Wharf, followed by a draining walk around town, as we are still getting used to the heat and humidity of the top end. We cooled off in the aircon at Fishing and Outdoor World, mainly because we wanted to surprise an old friend of ours. We managed to stumble across some impressive street art, which you need to look closely for but adds a nice artistic element to the township of Darwin.
Tuesday, June 8. We headed out of Darwin for a few days, leaving early to snag a campsite at the popular Litchfield National Park. It was a short walk from our campsite to Florence Falls for a swim, where the water was absolutely refreshing, and a touch crisp! Rob, however, rested his back from the 160 steps down to the pool (and back up), enjoying some time to himself in the van.
Wednesday, June 9. We headed out to explore Litchfield National Park. We checked out some gigantic termite mounds, the large and magnetic types. There was a pleasant walk to a lookout at Tolmer Falls, but unfortunately, Wangi Falls was closed for swimming due to a crocodile sighting two months ago, but we instead enjoyed our relaxing picnic lunch on the lush grass in the surrounds. This was supplemented with snacks from the covid safe cafe nearby. For our afternoon adventure, we finally swam at Buley Rock Holes, one of our favourite spots from our time living in Darwin. It was the perfect place to relax at the end of a day touring. The kids absolutely loved jumping into the deep rocky pools. We also witnessed a huge monitor lizard make its way right past us, even treading on our towels as he sauntered by.
Thursday, June 10. We had time in the morning to return to Florence Falls for a final swim. On the edge of Litchfield Park, we toured a fascinating zebra rock gallery. While in the area we dropped into Adelaide River to check out the big buffalo that once starred in Crocodile Dundee, now stuffed at the tavern, and also had a look at the war cemetery.
Friday, June 11. Back in Darwin, Clare took the kids to the Leanyer Water Park, while Rob rested his back. Later, we explored the old military buildings at East Point. There was an interesting walk to some mangroves, followed by a BBQ overlooking beautiful Fanny Bay with another brilliant sunset.
Saturday, June 12. After watching the McCormick boys play a bit of cricket, we walked across the road for coffee at the Botanic gardens. It was Greek festival time, the Glenti, on the Esplanade. We watched some Greek dancing and had a few Greek treats, then drove to the Ski Club for a catch-up with the old NTIS crew: Haze, Ronald and June. It was an enjoyable evening catching up and reminiscing about old times while watching another Darwin sunset.
Sunday, June 13. On our final day in Darwin, we ticked off another market in Nightcliff, then walked the nearby Nightcliff jetty. We spent the rest of the day preparing to leave the next day. We aptly finished our stay in Darwin with an old favourite, barra and chips dinner at the Stokes Hill Wharf.
Monday, June 14. It was sad to leave the McCormicks who have been wonderful hosts. On the way out of Darwin we passed through Humpty Doo and the big crocodile. A little further along we saw the real jumping crocodiles on a cruise on the Adelaide River. We set up and left the van at the Corroboree Park Tavern, then onto our houseboat on the nearby Corroboree Billabong. It was exciting and daunting setting off on our own, but we quickly got into the groove and chilled out. We found our water camping spot, anchored the boat and closed up the flyscreens at sunset to stop the mozzies.
Tuesday, June 15. We had a full day on the houseboat. We drove the boat back along the billabong, dropping anchor for a bbq lunch. The kids had turns steering in between attempts to catch a fish. There was lots of birdlife to see, plus a few crocodiles cruising by. Casper finally pulled in a fish, though fortunately it escaped the hook so we did not have to attempt to cook it.
Wednesday, June 16. We woke to a thick and eerie fog over the water. The boys unsuccessfully continued their quest to catch another fish. On our way back to port, we had a close encounter with a croc on the bank. Back at our van, there was more buffalo and crocs at the roadhouse. On our way into Kakadu, we stopped for lunch by the Mary River. At Jabiru, we ended the day with a swim at the caravan park.
Thursday, June 17. Ubirr was closed, so we checked out the rock art at Nourlangie, which was pretty impressive, as was the Nawurlandja Lookout and billabong nearby. The kids explored the Jabiru library while we stocked up with more supplies. We finished the day with another sunset swim in the campground pool.
Friday, June 18. In Jabiru we checked out the art gallery before the relatively short drive to the Mardugal campsite, a cheaper bush alternative to the nearby Cooinda. We had a look at the Cultural Centre then went for a chilly swim at the pool at Cooinda caravan park. We returned to photograph the yellow waters and birdlife at sunset, as we had decided not to go on the popular yellow water cruise.
Saturday, June 19. Clare and Rob walked from the campsite to a nice view of a nearby billabong. It was a bumpy drive out to Maguk (Barramundi) Gorge, then an interesting hike through water and over rocks to get to the spectacular waterhole. It is the only natural waterhole open for swimming in the park, so naturally, it was busy.
Sunday, June 20. We packed quickly in close to record time and were on the road by 7.30 am. Thankfully we were able to get one of the high demand camp-spots at Edith Falls. It is only a short walk to the huge natural pool, and a tiring swim out to the small waterfall. Beware no climbing on the rocks! We were lucky enough to have country singer Allison Forbes entertain us for the evening.
Monday, June 21. What a beautiful campsite, worth the early start yesterday to get here. After the late night last night listening to some live music, we had a slow morning. After lunch, we headed off on a hike to the upper pools. It was a 1.6km loop walk with a few ups and downs. The series of pools and waterfalls were much more interesting than the large plunge pool near the campground, though the lower pool was spectacular at sunset, the setting sun on the cliffs reflecting in the water.
Tuesday, June 22. Our next destination. Katherine Gorge. was only a short drive away. We stopped in town to explore a few places and stock up on supplies. At the NT Rare Rocks shop, we went crazy buying $50 worth of stones and gems. The Mimi Art Gallery was also impressive but much more expensive. We finished the day with a swim at the cool campground pool.
Wednesday, June 23. We woke to the sound of thousands of noisy fruit bats flying overhead, and poo splatter to go with it. It was a short but steep walk to the gorge lookout for some very impressive views, and a long tiring hike looping back to the campground. We drove back to town for a more reliable internet connection and some homework, then had a soak in the Katherine Hot Springs, though it was more like warm springs.
Thursday, June 24. We mostly rested in the morning in preparation for our afternoon of canoeing along Katherine Gorge. Thankfully it was a cloudy day so the temperature did not peak too high. We travelled the length of the second gorge, stopping a couple of times for a swim and bite to eat. We even saw a freshwater crocodile on the bank as we were returning. A very fun day was had by all.
Friday, June 25. We moved on to Mataranka, staying at the Little Roper Stock Camp, a very kid-friendly place with lots of animals, buffalo, pigs, reptiles, and some sugar gliders that are fed each evening. A nighttime swim at the hot springs was followed by a very entertaining show by Nathan ‘whippy’ Griggs, a record-breaking whip cracker.
Saturday, June 26. A great start to the day with freshly made jonny cakes and billy tea, and also a bread loaf that we demolished for lunch. The kids held a snake and some blue tongue lizards, before we went for a drift along Bitter Springs. We finished the day with another evening swim at the Mataranka Hot Springs.
Sunday, June 27. We went back to Bitter Springs today, this time with snorkels to explore the crystal clear world under the water. It was a lazy afternoon reading back at camp, then more snake handling (for the kids only!).
Monday, June 28. Unfortunately, no Jonny cakes this morning. We headed off early to Daly Waters, a quirky and very busy pub town. We checked out the junk museum, had a swim at the pub pool, then went early to the pub to bag a table for the night. We had a great barra meal and entertainment including the appearance of a horse, then a short stagger across the road back to the van.
Tuesday, June 29. Driving further south along the Stuart Highway, we had short stops at Elliott and Newcastle Waters, finishing at Banka Banka Station. The best thing about this place is the sunset view from the hill overlooking the station. We had another country singer entertaining us for the evening, this one was not so great.
Wednesday, June 30. We stopped at Tennant Creek, to check out the interesting old telegraph station and do some grocery shopping, arriving early at Devil’s Marbles. We walked the long loop track, a very easy and peaceful walk on a warm day. The free wifi was handy as we discovered that Alice Springs, our next destination, had gone into COVID lockdown. A sunset happy hour on the rocks was just what we needed to forget our worries about what to do next.
Thursday, July 1. We decided to stay another day at Devils Marbles with Alice Springs in lockdown. Clare and Olive drove back to Tennant Creek in the morning for much-needed supplies, and in the afternoon we explored more of the very interesting rock formations, mostly involving kids climbing on top of them.
Friday, July 2. We woke early with the intention of driving straight to Ormiston Gorge as Alice Springs was still in lockdown. We stopped in UFO central Wycliffe Well, big statues at Aileron and mango ice cream at Ti Tree. On the outskirts of Alice Springs, we were informed that they were coming out of lockdown a day early, in five minutes time! We changed plans and went to our previously booked accommodation, only a day behind schedule. We went up ANZAC Hill for a view over the town.
Saturday, July 3. We visited Megafauna Central, a very impressive museum about megafauna found in the area, before driving out along the East MacDonnell Range. There was some nice rock art at Emily Gap, a pleasant walk around the sacred site of Corroboree Rock, and a fantastic hike along the panoramic track at Trephina Gorge. Australia’s largest ghost gum was very impressive too.
Sunday, July 4. It was a frosty morning, the kids enjoyed playing with the ice that had formed overnight on the car windshield. We spent most of the day at the Alice Springs Desert Park. The highlights were the bird display, movie, and bush tucker talk. Rob’s cousin Jimmy came over to visit us at the Caravan Park and we reminisced about the last time we were in Alice Springs 12 years ago.
Monday, July 5. The kids went back to school – the School of The Air. It was a very interesting and enjoyable tour. We went into the mall for lunch and checked out a couple of Aboriginal art galleries. Olive was keen to check out the Olive Pink Botanic Garden for obvious reasons, then we drove out to Simpsons Gap later in the afternoon and played on the rocks and around the rock pools.
Tuesday, July 6. We headed west along the MacDonnell range, our first stop was at Ellery Creek Big Hole. The water was cold and still, with perfect reflections on the surrounding cliffs. We went as far as Ormiston Gorge and got one of the last small campsites. It was a short walk down to the gorge, the towering cliffs were impressive, though the rotting dead fish was rather unpleasant.
Wednesday, July 7. The hike up to the ghost gum lookout was steep, giving spectacular views along the gorge. We followed the track down into the gorge and then back to the campsite. Down the road was the ochre pits, with interesting brilliant rock colours. We finally made it to a ranger talk, which unfortunately was disappointing. The kids had a go at whip cracking, having been inspired to do so back in Mataranka.
Thursday, July 8. We drove back towards Alice Springs, stopping at Standley Chasm, reluctantly paying the steep entry price. It was good but not worth the price. After stocking up with supplies, we drove out to the very interesting Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve. The massive flocks of budgies entertained us with their graceful movements. There was only one other camper, so we enjoyed a lovely quiet night, warm enough for dinner outside as the sun set.
Friday, July 9. Those up during the night were treated to the most starry night you could ever see. We were all up for sunrise at the craters, joined by more swarms of budgies. The still morning was perfect to get the drone out for a spin. On the drive to Kings Creek Station, we stopped at Erlunda, close to the true centre of Australia. We also collected some firewood on the way, which was used in the shared firepit with our neighbours.
Saturday, July 10. It was a beautiful sunrise. We got out early for the hike around the rim of Kings Canyon. It was nerve-wracking watching the kids get close to the edges. The only accident was the dropping of the good camera, which surprisingly survived. The pool back at the camp was so appealing, but the water so cold it took the boys’ breath away. Giant and delicious camel burgers finished the day.
Sunday, July 11. A morning drive to Uluru with a coffee stop at Curtain Springs. As expected, there was a long line to check-in, but worth it as we were rewarded with the best powered site in the park. After planning our few days here, we had a BBQ and played a little minigolf, before a sunset view of Uluru from the lookout behind our campsite.
Monday, July 12. Up early to head to Uluru, we took the very informative ranger-led Marla walk. To save time we bought lunch at the Yulara town square, then more free activities – a bush food talk and a didgeridoo lesson. We headed back into the park, for drinks and our evening meal while watching the changing colours of Uluru as the sun set. Lucky we did not have too much to drink as Clare was breathalyzed on the way back.
Tuesday, July 13. It was Rob’s turn for an early morning sunrise view of Uluru. Rob and Jetson headed off to circumnavigate the rock on foot, with the others doing it on pushbikes. We checked out the cultural centre, then back to Yulara for a movie on radio astronomy, then The Dish, and to round off the themed day we did some star-gazing and witnessed the conjunction of Venus and Mars after sunset.
Wednesday, July 14. We learnt more about Aboriginal culture from Kali. It was raining, so we drove out to Uluru hoping to see waterfalls off the rock. We walked to the first two lookouts at Kata Tjuta which was well worth braving the cooler weather. We could not miss another sunset view of the spiritual heart of Australia, at a nearby lookout, then did some packing ready to leave early tomorrow.
Thursday, July 15. It was an eerily misty morning and another unique sunrise view from the other lookout. On our way back to the Stuart Highway we stopped again at Curtain Springs, and again at Erlunda for lunch and to feed the emus. It was a long driving day, with stops to photograph a big beer can, and at the SA border sign. We stayed overnight at Marla, camping next to a good camp kitchen.
Friday, July 16. It was a cold morning in Marla. We packed quickly, wanting to maximise our time in Coober Pedy. We had a noodle lunch in a cool park, and did the self-guided tour of the Old Timers Mine & Museum, followed by a little noodling while waiting for our house to be ready. We stayed in a very well decked out old underground house. Much to the kids’ dismay, we didn’t stay at home long, heading back into town to check out an underground church, old cemetery, saw the Big Winch and big town name sign, though we still made it back home in time for sunset and views over the barren landscape from our front yard.
Saturday, July 17. It was nice to wake up in a house, and not be cold. We enjoyed the morning just hanging around the stable-temperature house. We went to town and checked out a few opal shops, which all started to look the same after a while. After lunch, we drove out to the Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park, which was pretty impressive despite the cold wind. It was like a Martian landscape near the dog fence. Back in town we did some more noodling, then fed some joeys at the kangaroo orphanage.
Sunday, July 18. It has been very enjoyable staying underground at Di’s Place. We spent the morning lapping up the luxuries of the house, before driving to Woomera, choosing to stay in a powered site as it is going to be another cold night. We had a brief look at the outdoor rocket display but will be back in the morning for the museum.
Monday, July 19. We returned to the rocket museum in Woomera, a fascinating and quality museum about Australia’s rocket program. We stopped for lunch at Port Augusta, turning right heading to WA. Checking the news, we heard of COVID cases in SA, so decided to skip Pildappa Rock and race to the border to avoid any possible lockdowns. Our attempt to cross before midnight was thwarted by the Nullabor Roadhouse being closed, so we had to set up camp there in the dark and wait for fuel in the morning.
Tuesday, July 20. We woke early to head off to the border and were rewarded with a Nullarbor sunrise. We pulled over for a quick look at the Great Australian Bight and luckily arrived at the WA border possibly minutes before changes to border restrictions, meaning we missed having to quarantine for two weeks. It was time to relax in the west, we were able to enjoy a few holes of golf at a couple of holes on the Nullabor links. We had to stop again at Madura Pass for chips and gravy, and ordered way too much. We stopped at a free camp in the rain after sunset, which came earlier than we expected being so far west. It was another tiring long day of driving, but it has been totally worth it.
Wednesday, July 21. It rained all night, but it didn’t dampen our spirits. We are going to be home tomorrow. We still needed to stop for supplies in Norseman and lashed out with lunch at the bakery. After a paid shower we continued on with an afternoon drive, reaching Boondi Rock and Dam, a surprisingly good National Park free camp spot. We cranked up the firepit and finished off our marshmallow supplies, celebrating our last night on the road.
Thursday, July 22. There was no rush to leave on our last day. We started with a walk on the rock, then drove off in the sunshine. We stopped at Meckering, but the shop we wanted to visit was closed and closing down soon. Outside of Northam we accidentally drove in illegally to see some large silo art up close, then continued on the alternative route to home. The landscape was very green and lush, hinting at what has been a very wet few weeks while we’ve been away. After arriving home, we had the feeling of relief and satisfaction that we had finally completed the loop we started about 50 days ago. What a fabulous adventure!